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“Stretch your allegories,” urges Kat Richardson, our lecturer for the Clarion West One-day Workshop: Creating Your Urban Fantasy World.

It is Sunday March 4, 2012. I am in Seattle, for the second time in six months, and thoroughly enjoying myself.  There are fourteen of us seated around a series of folding tables that have been circled like wagons. All our attention is focussed on this dynamic and interesting woman and my natural tendency to be laid back–to relax and enjoy the show–is quickly turned on its head.

“Whether it’s a “ghost in the machine” or a “monster under the bed”, you have to learn to  see, hear, smell…feel…your real world and tweak it,” continues Kat.  “Take an idea, put your rational mind aside, and feed the Lizard brain.” She gives us all a lovely, if somewhat predatory, grin and right then I know that this is going to be a GREAT workshop.

One of the biggest advantages of being land-bound, is the ability to make plans. Since I knew that we’d be in Vancouver until summer, I was able to book a place on this workshop weeks ahead, confident that no inclement weather, equipment failure or fishing net would hinder my passage. Being lubberly has its compensations, I’ll admit it.

And I count myself extraordinarily lucky to have been able to attend this workshop. It is exactly what I was hoping for, and what I needed. Kat Richardson is a very cool lady and she knows her stuff. “Stuff”, in this case, being those hoary secrets bricked up behind a retaining wall, weirdness hidden beneath a veil of normality, the bump in the night, that hairy thing nosing my leg–

Mischief, managed.

–which, fortunately for me, turns out to be a cute, curly-haired hairy thing. Apart from the mischievous gleam in his bright black eyes, (and tendency to transform humans of all ages into  adoring slaves), “Raffy” is a perfectly normal poodle and the unofficial mascot of the workshops. He is also companion and familiar of my dear friend, Leslie Howle, The Most-Awesome ClarionWest Workshop Director.

…and, yes, I was ensorceled into to giving him pats and treats.

In the meantime,  Kat is directing her grey-eyed take-no-prisoners intensity to the other students.  “Ask yourself: How does this magic corrupt? Will it eat your protagonist? Drown her? Burn him up? Step into the skin of your character and taste it…what flavour does this magic come in? How do I get it, how do I keep it, and what will it COST me?”

Kat Richardson is one of the most grounded people I’ve ever met, rational, insightful and incredibly hard-working. These attributes appear in her heroine, Harper Blaine, a small-time Seattle-based PI.

Revived after an attack that has left her clinically dead for a couple of minutes, Harper discovers that she is now able to move between our world and the different dimensions of “The Grey”, that sensed-but-not-seen otherness that exists alongside our own.  The “cross-over” zone of The Grey is exactly what Kat describes as she urges us to not only know our settings intimately, but to stretch the ‘what-ifs’, have some fun, sneak a peek and dabble in the dark.

Kat encouraged us to not only mine the mythic archive but to dig beneath the cultural memes when developing our magic system. Her discussions on placing both character and setting onto a  “continuum of the extraordinary”, was particularly useful. We had a full day to delve into character flaws and strengths, to play pretend and inhabit our characters’ skin. Some of us even survived.

Feed the lizard!

Yes, I’ll admit it–I had a hell of a lot of fun. Perhaps more than I should of, because on one hand I have a whole new set of very cool tools for my Writing Bag’O’Tricks, and on the other I’ve not been able to concentrate on a single project: My brain is buzzing, which must mean that ideas are like flies for the Lizard brain.



Once again, my thanks and reverences go to the ClarionWest team, all of them, for their amazing work, dedication and friendship to the continuation of our craft and livelihood! (And if you haven’t seen their line-up for this year’s six week workshop, just follow that link!)

Get in quick!! There are two more workshops to go:

Making the Reader Believe –Sunday, April 15, 2012 with the very wonderful Nicola Griffith,


Where Sea Meets Shore: Literary Genre Fiction — Sunday May 6, 2012 with the prolific and outrageously talented Cat Rambo. - This website is for sale! - extensionfactory Resources and Information.

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